Is it really possible that this farce of a Labor caucus, many members of which apparently seek out journalists, any journalists, for a quick therapy session to talk through their personal political nightmares, will depose Julia Gillard in the next few weeks and re-instate Kevin Rudd?
It seems so. A few weeks ago at the start of the political year, it seemed to me that Gillard had finally established herself as a legitimate prime minister. That was before Gillard announced the election date, before Craig Thomson was charged with a large number of offences and before the ICAC Inquiry in New South Wales revealed the extent of the corruption in the NSW Labor Right.
Gillard, I wrote, was still likely to lead Labor to defeat at the polls on September 14, but she would have the advantage of incumbency going into the election, an advantage she did not have in the 2010 poll.
The Rudd challenge to her leadership was over and Rudd as the spoiler was unlikely to have any significant impact in the lead-up to the election and indeed, during the formal campaign.
I was wrong.
In mitigation, it could be argued that it was impossible to foresee the timing of the Thomson charges nor was it easy to be really clear about the extent of the damage that would be done to Labor in New South Wales by the ICAC revelations.
You could add the unforeseen resignations – for entirely legitimate personal reasons – of two senior Gillard ministers and the failure of the MRRT to raise anywhere near the forecast revenue, revenue which the government had already allocated for, among other things, an increase in the compulsory superannuation levy from 9 per cent to 12 per cent.
But wrong is wrong. And here’s what could have been foreseen and which I should have foreseen; Kevin Rudd’s resilience, his self-absorption, his determination, which has never wavered, to ensure that those who robbed him of his prime ministership would not profit from what they did, that they would pay the heaviest price possible for deposing him.
Of course Rudd would love to be prime minister again, but it seems that has not been his prime motivation, but rather it has been his fierce, unwavering belief that he was so appallingly treated by those who organised his demise that they must pay for their sins, even if that means the destruction of a Labor government.
Rudd is a singular figure in Australian post-war political history. He was deposed as prime minister in his first term, rejected so overwhelmingly by his caucus that there was not even a vote needed to depose him. This mattered little to Rudd. If not personally, then through his supporters, he played a significantly negative role in Labor’s 2010 election campaign.
Most prime ministers, deposed the way Rudd was deposed, would have retired to the backbench and then left parliament altogether at the next general election. Not Rudd. He stayed on in parliament and not only that, he agreed to serve in a cabinet full of people he couldn’t stand – to put it mildly – and who couldn’t stand him either.
And so throughout the life of the Gillard government, the spectre of Kevin Rudd has hung over it. Rudd was a senior cabinet minister when all the while, Rudd’s supporters – we don’t really know who they are because the Canberra press gallery never bothers to name them – were running a campaign designed to return Rudd to the top job.
It is likely that virtually any other former prime minister would have retired after being so comprehensively defeated in the leadership ballot last February, but not Rudd. Not even after a conga line of senior ministers attacked him with a ferociousness that well and truly exceeded their attacks on Tony Abbott.
Of course the Gillard government is politically inept. Julia Gillard is not a brave prime minister. She may be determined and resilient, but she is not politically brave. She panicked on refugees, she panicked on the mining tax, she was literally unbelievable on same sex marriage and apart from her sexism and misogyny speech in parliament, nothing she has said, no speech by her, has been memorable.
Perhaps this is a government that deserves to be turfed out of office, though the suggestion by some senior Coalition figures that this is the worst government in Australian history is ludicrous. It certainly seems to be the case, if the most recent polls are what we go by – and every judgment nowadays is based on polling – that a majority of Australians want to see the back of this government.
But that there are now a significant number of Labor caucus members actively promoting a change of leader is the best sign that this government deserves to lose the next election. And that caucus would even contemplate a return to Kevin Rudd is a sign that Labor MPs are now on about nothing else but holding on to their seats.
They are confiding their despair about the government’s future to journalists and they are unburdening themselves about Gillard’s ineptness to every Tom, Dick and Harriet journalist in Canberra and beyond. They are not interested in policy, they are unconcerned about whether the government is being true to Labor values – whatever they may be – and they cannot see beyond their own individual future.
Now I am not sure about all this because I am taking on trust the reporting of journalists who in the main, never name names and are now entirely comfortable in reporting everything that is said to them anonymously. I’m not suggesting journalists are making stuff up, but we do have to take it on trust that they are not doing so.
Kevin Rudd has played the long, patient game of payback brilliantly and he has always been a master at using journalists to further his own ends. He is everywhere in the media, hosing down leadership questions with a hose full of lighter fluid. Many in caucus might think that Rudd is their savior.
More likely they will be politically consumed in the fire that Rudd has helped light.